Midnight hand-dyed rice: Expectations of motherhood vs. the reality

When I imaged having children, I thought of all the wonderful things I would do with them, the memories we would make, and the unadulterated joy that I believed parenthood would bring.

I signed up to a number of craft websites, excited about what things I could try with my babies to stimulate their little brains and have fun at the same time. I thought I’d make handprint pictures which we would smile about when they were older, Christmas decorations, fairy gardens, and homemade rattles.

In hindsight, I was a bit clueless. Being exhausted and trying to do crafts with very young children is folly. I remember one such evening (nearly midnight) when I hand-dyed rice, despite the fact that I’d not slept in 24 hours, to be used in an activity the next day which turned out to be a complete flop. The activity went something like this: prepare ingredients to be used, small child throws them on the floor, refuses to put coloured rice in recycled drinks bottles, gets covered in glue, covers mother and the floor in glue, screams a lot about coloured rice being in bottles, and ultimately we all have a terrible time.

I remember this particular incident so vividly because I wanted our house to be full of homemade crafts. I loved crafting as a child and I actually still really enjoy it. My children are older now and they do like it a bit more as their attention spans have become longer, but at the time I was so disappointed. I thought all children enjoyed making things and exploring their environment through different media, or so the website told me, and everyone looked like they were having a lovely time of it as well!

I thought I was getting it all wrong. I wasn’t enjoying the things I thought I would enjoy. I thought it was my fault. Maybe I was a bad mum.

I can also say with hindsight that none of those things were true: my expectations of motherhood were far too high, I was fed false information which romanticised motherhood and I fell for it. I wasn’t doing a bad job, I just hadn’t been given the correct information about what was actually going to occur during the endless task of parenting very young children.

Things have changed: we can undertake a craft project now where nobody cries, we can play board games and card games, and we enjoy each other’s company. This was the motherhood I was expecting; it came along a lot further down the mothering road than I was led to believe, but it’s arrived.

So, for anyone struggling to find joy in the everyday, you’re not alone and you’re not doing anything wrong. Survival is what the very early years are about. My grandmother said to me once, “Having a child under five is a bit like being in the trenches, bloody hard work, but when you’ve gone over the top all the hard work will have paid off,” and I can honestly say it did, a hundred times over.

If you’d like a chat about surviving the early months and years, please come along to The Motherkind Café (online for now, but one day in the real world!). There will be no judgment, just support, and especially no coloured rice.

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